First Oil Well in Kentucky

Historic Marker #702: "First Oil Well in Kentucky" - Whitley City, Ky.
Energy resources are a common topic of conversation in Kentucky, usually dominated by coal. But last week, there was mention of wind power coming to Kentucky. And the airwaves are currently focused on the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline project which would cut through the Commonwealth with natural gas derived by the fracking process in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania to refineries along the Gulf Coast for use in the northeastern U.S.

All this made me wonder about Kentucky's history with oil. Well it seems that the first oil well in Kentucky was dug in 1818, but no one seemed particularly interested with the product. According to Historic Marker #702,
In 1818, Marcus Huling and Andrew Zimmerman were drilling salt wells along South Fork of Cumberland River. On land leased from Martin Beaty they struck oil. Attempts to market it downriver were not successful, so oil was barreled and carted away for medicinal use. This was the first commercial oil well; its production reached one hundred barrels daily. 

Site of First Kentucky Oil Well
Illustration: U. of Kentucky.
The historic marker is located on the lawn of the McCreary County Courthouse in Whitley City. The well itself was located very close to the Tennesee state line, as seen on the map at right.

As noted above from the text of the marker, the land was owned by Martin Beatty who contracted with Huling and Zimmerman to drill salt brine wells.

That process resulted in an important agricultural product, salt. Once discovered, the brines could be evaporated to leave behind the necessary ingredient to curing and preserving meats in the pre-frigeration days.

Instead, they struck oil.

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